After the disappointment of Devil May Care, written by Sebastian Faulks and published in 2008 to coincide with the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, I didn’t even pre-order Carte Blanche. However, when a number of glowing reviews were published I relented and decided to read it after all.
Working in author Jeffery Deaver’s favour were a number of interviews in which it was clear that he is a real Bond nut to the extent that he puts his love of skiing and scuba down to wanting to emulate James Bond when he was younger; I have to confess that I’d never heard of Jeffrey Deaver when the book was first announced as “Project X”, although it later transpired that The Bone Collector, which I had seen on TV, was based on his novel of the same name.
The book is a reboot, probably encouraged by the success of doing the same thing with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. However, it is a far cry from Ian Fleming’s books, which often linger over technical details, card games or golf; or, as in Thunderball, Domino’s story of the sailor who appeared on the packaging of Player’s Cigarettes and follows the more recent films in piling on non-stop action.
In fact Deaver’s James Bond is barely recognisable for anyone brought up on Ian Fleming’s original books, although nods to Fleming have been made, such as his Bentley and Rolex. But nods aside, Deaver’s Bond hardly comes across as Eton and Fettes educated, although those background details are there.
Another weakness is the villain, who comes across as rather cartoonish; his love of decay and seeing corpses may work in Deaver’s usual genre but it doesn’t work well at all in a James Bond novel; he doesn’t come across as believable at all. I also didn’t like the fact that in Carte Blanche Deaver throws in everybody Fleming mentioned in James Bond’s universe, and a few more too.
I guess it’s because it was written as a one shot that he feels he has to put in everything he knows about James Bond, rather than add a bit here and a bit there over time. Felix Leiter, Rene Marthis, Miss Moneypenny, M and a whole host of other characters are all there to assist 007. And to add insult to injury, Bond gets out of almost any situation because – there’s an app for that.
His “iQPhone” is way overused and instead of using his own cunning and ingenuity he constantly calls his superiors in London, Q Branch or colleagues. While that may be more realistic with today’s communications, it isn’t at all like Ian Fleming’s James Bond who was very much a lone wolf, operating by himself and only sometimes assisted by allies.
And Deaver only had to reference Carte Blanche once; the reader really doesn’t need to be continually reminded why the book is titled as it is; instead we are continually reminded with references to carte grise and carte blanche.
With an unrecognisable James Bond, too much action, cartoon villain and – something else picked up from the films – hopping from location to location with barely any feel for the place we’ve just landed the book soon began to grate; instead I wanted to read about the James Bond I know and love. However, just about at the half way mark, when I had pretty much decided to write it off as a James Bond novel something happened.
Either I became more forgiving or Deaver found his stride. Although the previous criticisms still apply, James Bond suddenly came into focus. In the first half of the book I couldn’t picture him at all; but halfway through he suddenly seemed to become James Bond, as played by Daniel Craig.
The rest of the book had a quite a few twists and turns and was quite enjoyable. It’s almost like Deaver was trying to find his feet in the first half and once he found them he kept his stride. While it doesn’t compare at all with Ian Fleming it is a reasonable read and so if you like the James Bond books and don’t yet have a copy it’s time to add it to your collection.